It’s a long time since I’ve written anything remotely long form – as opposed to the extremely short form of a tweet, occasionally extending to a thread, which might add up to 3000 characters, perhaps 300 words. This has been in large part down to my ongoing health problems, which I wrote about, coming up to a year ago now. Since that formal diagnosis of chronic vestibular migraine, I’ve been on a fairly powerful medication amitriptyline. I went up to the maximum daily dose recommended by my neurologist, of 100mg a day. Then I gradually came off it. And all the familiar symptoms flooded back. So I went back on it again back up to 100mg a day, which is what I’m now taking for the foreseeable future. More recently I’ve seen a cranial osteopath, as recommended by several people. She pointed out some very interesting things which I hadn’t really noticed before but made perfect sense. And she’s recommended I give the 4 7 8 breathing exercise a go.
I realized that one of the things the Amitriptyline was doing was making me binge eat, so I have tried to be conscious of that. Also since giving up caffeine I’ve really noticed that having dark chocolate in the evening is a bad idea. Avoiding doing that also helps minimize the risk of me binge eating chocolate while watching tv. I do have a sweet tooth though, so I’m now partial to a piece of baklava instead. Telling you all about my eating habits isn’t exactly why I thought I would write something today, but there you go. It’s a thing. I do get out for a reasonably long walk every afternoon (though I did miss a few during the exceptionally hot days), so I burn off what I eat.
Another reason for me writing today is because I want to know how long I can write for before my symptoms appear. I’ve done a couple of pieces of writing over the last few months, including quite a large report (15000 words) and reading through a 80,000 word manuscript. The report was a struggle, I have to be honest. Reading through the manuscript was easier, as I could do it in chunks of an hour or an hour and a half. Both made me realize that although the medication helps, it hasn’t resolved the problem, just put a lid on it.
What I had intended to write about today was the impending demise of Boris Johnson and his replacement with, we must reasonably assume, Liz Truss. There will be a very remote chance that all the polls are wildly wrong and Rishi Sunak will get in, but it seems unlikely now.
What might a Liz Truss era mean for the environment?
We’ve already seen that both contenders have committed to wiping away all of the retained EU legislation, that was, for the most part, left unchanged during that era of chaos after the Referendum. This includes UK laws that transposed EU Directives for application in the UK (and often transposed these laws differently for each UK country).
I mean things like the Bathing Waters Directive, the Urban Waste Water Directive, the Water Framework Directive, the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, or rather multiple EIA Directives. I’m sure there are many more, because the EU created an opportunity for laws to be written to protect the environment that transcended national borders, just as the environment transcends borders.
And just because we have now left the EU, the environment will continue to transcend borders.
As these laws are wiped from the UK statute book – or rather the four UK country statute books, there’s is a further serious implication for the environment, which is that EU Case Law, which has built up around all these environmental directives during the last nearly 50 years, will also no long apply.
Liz Truss recently announced that she would abandon the “nutrient neutrality” rules that affect housing building. These rules arise from the damage caused by excess nutrients – Nitrogen and Phosphates, to European Sites (SACs or SPAs) designated as a result of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive. This meant that any new housing development, where the “nutrients” flowing from that development (sewage) entered a European Site, would have to show that there were no additional nutrients being deposited in that site, compared to when the housing development didn’t exist.
Thanks to a series of European Court judgements, this nutrient neutrality approach is being adopted right across the EU. And in the UK that has meant that housing developments that were not able to show that they were nutrient neutral, were not allowed to proceed. This has caused a great deal of anger and consternation, not least from house builders and conservative politicians, wondering why we are still following the EU rule book.
Recently Natural England announced that it had come up with a bespoke England-only alternative solution to nutrient neutrality, whereby housing developers could buy nutrient credits from landowners who would be paid to reduce the amount of nitrogen (or phosphate) leaving their land, to counterbalance the additional stuff coming from the housing developments.
Now Truss has been reported as saying she would just do away with this “red tape” altogether. At which point, as you can imagine, the eutrophication levels, which had been damaging all these top wildlife sites, would return to where it was before.
It’s an indication of Truss’ intention to “get rid of all the green crap” as a previous Prime Minister once said. She’s also expressed her intention to stop solar farms being built on farmland.
“Our fields should be filled of our fantastic produce – whether it’s the great livestock, the great arable farms. It shouldn’t be full of solar panels and I will change the rules…. to make sure we use our high value agricultural land for farming.”
Actually Liz Truss has disliked solar farms for a very long time. I wrote about her dislike for them, while being silent about the much much larger area of farmland used to grow crops for biogas, back in 2014. It’s interesting (well it is for me) to note that in 2014 only 29000ha of farmland was used for biogas crops, although the NFU had a target to get 100,000ha under biogas crops by 2020.
Guess what? As of 2022 something like 120,000ha of England is now under biogas crops. Well done NFU!
Liz Truss remains silent about all that farmland not being used for great livestock or great arable crops. Unless biogas crops are great arable crops.
Leaving aside her desire for a Great British Nature Survey perhaps the great threat of her deliberate pivot to the extreme right of the Tory party, is that she will abandon the 2050 Net Zero target, and open the doors for fracking. She’s already committed to abandoning the Green Levy on electricity bills.
In her speech to the Conservative Environment Network she went further:
“In these tough economic times, I will put the interests of people and businesses at the heart of our Net Zero agenda and harness the full power of free enterprise as a clean, green jobs-creating machine.
We can only succeed by taking bold action to get our economy and our country back on track. That is why I will act swiftly to tackle the cost of living. Suspending green energy levies, in line with the Conservative Environment Network’s recommendation, will save families an average of £153 a year.
During this time, we would conduct a review of our policies to ensure we are meeting our climate commitments in the most economical way, which does not pile unnecessary costs onto consumers.”
It sounds to me as if what she’s saying is that we will only be able to take climate action if the economy is growing sufficiently quickly, and that would certainly tie in with her economic ideology. It’s economy before environment – and environmental action only if we can afford it.
I think I’ve probably written as much as I can now, other than one last point.
Boris Johnson’s rule, chaotic and corrupt as it was, will be seen as an era when there was a considerable amount of attention applied to “green” issues. Johnson was influenced by his wife Carrie and close friend Zac Goldsmith – and there may have even been some tiny vestige of his own interest in environmental matters, not least resulting from his father’s career. Michael Gove’s time at Defra was also characterized by a flurry of new policy announcements and plans – although now it appears he set many hares running, but how many actually came to anything? Reforming farm support, replacing area payments with payments for public goods will probably be his greatest legacy – if it can survive.
That Johnson failed to achieve anything of note from an environmental perspective, while waving goodbye to the environmental protections that being in the EU afforded, is only one part of that legacy. I fear the other one is that, once Johnson is prized out of Number 10, Green issues (in the broadest sense) will be soft targets vulnerable to attack and derision – especially from the contrarian right (eg the Net Zero Scrutiny Group), because they will be associated with his time in office.
I hope I’m wrong.